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Is bleed damage worth optimizing once you reach the higher levels or does it become useless due to immunity or healing?

Creatures start getting fast healing and regeneration in the higher levels but this does not stop bleed damage as it specifies that only spells or a hell check can end bleed damage.

Bleeding can be stopped by a DC 15 Heal check or through the application of any spell that cures hit point damage (even if the bleed is ability damage).

Emphasis mine.

With this in mind it seems that the only thing to worry about in higher levels is immunity to bleed and the ability to cast healing spells.

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I don't think so.


A few things up front.

There are several important issues to address regarding Bleed effects.

Rules as intended

James Jacobs (Creative Director of Paizo) has clarified on the "Ask JJ" thread that the RAI about stopping bleed damage is (emphasis mine):

Anything that heals hit point damage stops bleed damage.

Not only does that match the rules as intended, it's simple to remember. And there's NO GOOD REASON why cure light wounds should be able to stop bleed damage when a potion of cure light wounds (also not a spell) won't do the same thing. Or fast healing or channel energy or anything else.

If it heals hp damage, it stops all bleed effects.

Then again, he also states that drinking a potion does not "apply" the spell to the drinker, so his rules interpretations are not universally accepted.

Nevertheless, JJ's RAI increases the amount of creatures immune to bleed damage drastically, including everything that has Regeneration or Fast Healing.

Stacking Bleed

Bleed damage does not normally stack with other bleed damage. From the bleed condition:

[...] Bleed effects do not stack with each other unless they deal different kinds of damage. When two or more bleed effects deal the same kind of damage, take the worse effect. [...]

Because of this strict non-stacking rule, I believe Bleeding Critical to be the only worthwhile source of bleed damage, since:

The effects of this feat stack.

This supersedes non-stacking of bleeding in general, which means that you can potentially stack this indefinitely. Because of this, I believe it to be the only Bleed ability that's worth considering for serious damage.


Immunity count

The following data was gathered by running a Python script that analyzes the Monster database on d20pfsrd.com.

Creatures types and subtypes immune to bleed

Creature Types and Subtypes generally immune to bleed damage, with average CR*:

  • Undead: 250 Creatures, CR 6.88±4.8
  • Construct: 167 Creatures, CR 8.11±4.98
  • Elemental: 156 Creatures, CR 7.84±5.33
  • Kami: 11 Creatures, CR 10.33±6.48
  • Behemoth: 3 Creatures, CR 20.0±2.0

*Due to technical reasons, "CR +1" templates are counted as "CR 1" creatures

Undead, Construct and Elemental are pretty dominant creature types. (Interestingly, incorporeal creatures seem to bleed just fine)

If you add the immunities via RAI, you can include many high level outsiders as well. In total, the numbers are as follows:

  • Fast Healing: 196 Creatures, CR 11.34±6.96:
  • Regeneration: 196 Creatures, CR 15.6±7.98:

These may overlap with the creature types above, though.

Critical hit immunes

Bleeding Critical requires you to crit, which means you can add

  • Ooze: 72 Creatures, CR 6.92±4.85
  • Swarm: 67 Creatures, CR 4.7±3.43
  • Aeon: 5 Creatures, CR 11.4±7.13:5

to the list of immunes due to immunity to critical hits. Again, these may overlap, particularly in case of swarms (I do remember construct swarms being a thing)

Adding the numbers

In total, there are 964 creatures (this number should not include doubles) that are immune to Bleed, have Regeneration or Fast Healing, or are immune to criticals. The average CR of these creatures is 9.24±6.78.


Doing it anyway

If you want to build for bleed optimization, there's actually not much you can do, since you only need a single source of Bleed (which is Bleeding Critical). That said, optimizing for Bleed is just taking Bleeding Critical on top of a critical hit focused build.

Off the top of my head I'd suggest dual-kukri wielding Two-Weapon Warrior Fighter, as this is quite feat intensive, and getting a whole bunch of attacks helps. Take Improved Critical at 8th, Critical Focus at 9th and Bleeding Critical at 11th.

Since you are there anyway, I'd pick up Critical Mastery at 14th, and alternative critical feats to keep your game up whenever your enemy refuses to bleed.

Note that retraining allows you to use your low-level feat slots for high prereq feats as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Critical-focused builds have lots of problems themselves; most of the effects are over-costed considering the infrequency of critical hits, plus there are all those things you’ve mentioned which are immune to critical hits. So even if “optimizing bleed” is just one feat on top of a critical build, the critical build itself is also problematic. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 30 '14 at 16:25
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It very much depends on the nature of the encounters your PC expects to face. In typical published material, including PFS scenarios, encounters don't last long enough for bleed to have much of an effect.

To make use of bleed, not only do you have to be facing a creature that isn't immune to it (see MrLemon's amazing answer for an assessment of the question of immunity), but you also need to have an opportunity to stick the bleed effect and then get out of the way while the bleed does its work. Getting out of the way could mean hiding, going invisible, flying out of reach of the ground pounder, or any number of things.

In other words, you optimize bleed by optimizing your PC's ability to execute hit and run tactics. Before you embark with such a PC plan, you'll need to have some assurance that the campaign you are playing in will provide opportunities to execute hit and run tactics. PFS scenarios and most Paizo-published material do not provide many such opportunities. A better bet is a home game with a creative GM that knows how to give the PCs plenty of chances to be awesome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure hit-and-run tactics work as the bleed condition is so easy to stanch. Unless the foes one routinely faces are either incompetent boobs with no method of self-repair or creatures mechanically incapable of self-repair and making Heal checks, the best one could hope for is maybe 2-3 rounds of bleed damage after one inflicts it and flees the encounter. Enemies that would be downed by that much damage could probably--in fact, almost assuredly--have been downed instead simply with another attack, eliminating the guesswork and the need to run in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 1 '14 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's easy for thinking creatures to stanch. It's not so easy for animals, vermin, etc. Again, it comes down to what the PC expects to face in his/her career. Lots of bears in the woods? Sure, stick 'em and watch 'em bleed out. Mostly drow? Hit and run tactics probably won't work so well there. \$\endgroup\$ – skoormit Oct 1 '14 at 22:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know it's weird, but nothing prevents animals and vermin from using the skill Heal. It's a skill that's usable untrained and requires no materials (having a kit just makes it easier). Moreover, many animals have superior Wisdom and even vermin do okay, making it even easier to end the condition bleed. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 2 '14 at 6:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair point about animals using the Heal skill. I suppose a dog knows how to lick his wounds, after all. With that in mind, I still think it's possible to make some use of hit and run tactics with bleed, but it's not a poke-once-and-watch-it-bleed-out affair. You'll need to poke it, hide, watch it bleed until it makes the heal check, poke it again, etc. That sounds playable and fun, if not terribly powerful, and again, you'll want to make sure that the campaign you are in is going to allow for this kind of approach. \$\endgroup\$ – skoormit Oct 2 '14 at 20:57

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